Amazon granted patent for workers in the robot cages

Packages decorated with Amazon logos travel along a conveyor at the inside of an Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, USA, 27 November 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson – RC14C0F89150

Amazon was granted a patent in 2016 for a new way to transport human beings around the warehouses of Amazon. Employees would sit in a cage-like enclosure on the top of the claw arm of the robot, which the researchers described as an “extraordinary illustration of the employee alienation.”

The patent is highlighted in a case study called “the Anatomy of an AI-System”, published on Friday by Kateb Crawford (New York University, and principal researcher at Microsoft Research) and Vladan Joler (University of Novi Sad).

Crawford and Joler work describes how “the employee is a part of a machinic ballet, held upright in a cage, which dictates and hinders the movement.”

In the patent of Amazon described how the device can be used to workers in the area of robots in order to repair or remove a fault trolleys or pick up items that have fallen off the robot-controlled boards.

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Amazon’s warehouses are highly automated, and while currently the system will shut down automatically if an unauthorized person enter the robot-only zone, this patent seems to be a way for the blurring of the boundary between the areas for automated machines and areas safe for humans. It states that “there may be circumstances where it is necessary for the human operators to traverse, or otherwise, an active space.”

Eight inventors in the Boston area (where Amazon Robotics is located) are credited for the patent. Amazon Robotics was formed when the company bought Kiva Systems, six years ago.

In a comment to the Boston Herald, Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Campbell said the company’s files of a number of forward-looking patents,” which encourages employees to experiment and invent, but such a device is not in use in any Amazon fulfillment centers. Dave Clark, senior vice president of operations at Amazon also tweeted as a response to this patent to receive the coverage.

Sometimes even bad ideas submitted for patents. This is never used and we have no plans for use. We developed a much better solution is a small vest, employees can wear that to make sure that all robot-drive units in their vicinity to stop moving.

— Dave Clark (@davehclark)
September 8, 2018


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